Düsseldorf, 22nd November 2023
I have this strange feeling, I can’t believe that this many lives can be crammed into one, all these lives we are given, and they’re all completely different.
On February 24th 2022, when we woke up and heard the news, we couldn’t believe it. In a split second we realised that our children’s future had been destroyed, that our country had been taken away from us, that from now on and forever we will be associated with fascists and that our children will be hated simply because they speak Russian, because of their surname.
I come from a Jewish family, part of our family died in concentration camps. We have always perceived the last war, the Second World War, from the victim’s point of view. This time, I realised how it feels to be on the other side, what the Germans who didn’t support Hitler felt.
So we packed just two suitcases, caught a plane and left the country. When we arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, our friends who came to pick us up said: are you crazy? Two suitcases? There are four of you! We didn’t realise where we were going or why. I didn’t feel that we were emigrating, I felt like I had been grabbed by the hair and pulled somewhere.
The most important things can’t be packed up and taken away, anyway. My parents’ graves will stay there, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I just know they’re with me wherever I go.
Building a life in a new place is really hard when you have absolutely no intention of moving. It felt as if we were in our 20s again, but we were the grown-ups. We no longer had our parents to fall back on, instead, we were now responsible for others. And it was terrifying.
On the 7th of October, we woke up at 6:30 to the sound of a siren, completely out of it. We grabbed my son and ran upstairs. The neighbours were standing there, too, sleepy and lost. Barefoot, in their underwear. We weren’t ready for this, although there’s a joke in Israel that you always sleep in decent pyjamas. It wasn’t until the third siren that I remembered to put shorts on.
And there was just this creeping, suffocating fear. Our friends, who have been living in Israel for 30 years, told us during one of our phone calls to check in, they were buying plane tickets. So we started looking for tickets that would take us to Europe, ideally to Düsseldorf where my sister lives.
The whole thing was a complete deja vu. Our second move in 1,5 years. I kept thinking, this is not the world I wanted to bring my kids into. But on the other hand, we knew exactly how to pack. This time we took one small suitcase, that’s it. We knew that “stuff” wasn’t important.
I’m very proud of us all, of my husband for finding a new job abroad, of my sons for leaving their friends, making new ones and learning new languages, of my daughter for finding her first job in a new country. I guess that’s what this emigration has given me, this incredible feeling of pride for everybody, and for myself as well.
On New Year’s Day 2023, one of our older children raised a glass and said: “We want to drink to our parents, who all of their lives have taught us about the importance of being honest and when that moment came, they proved it. They lived up to their principles”.
But it’s hard to get over not having a home, to have it taken away. I miss it terribly. I miss the blue leaves, the air, the light, the Moscow light. The smells after the rain, and just the city’s smell in general. My youngest is still not over it. We had just celebrated his fifth birthday when we left Russia. He’s very emotional, he remembers things. Everything.
A few months ago he asked me: “What do you think is more important, a home or a famly?” I had been talking to a child psychologist and she told me that when a child asks you these existential questions that you can’t answer, ask him to answer them himself. So I said, “What do you think?” And he said: “I think the house is more important because the family is there, regardless”. In those words, he expressed the whole essence of our life.
Daria, her husband and two of her children, left their home in Moscow after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, settled in Tel Aviv, Israel, and left her home there, too, after the Hamas attacks on October 7th. She explains what it feels like to flee and leave your home twice.